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I will assay, her worth to celebrate,
Follow me as I sing
And touch the warbled string,
Trip no more in twilight ranks ;
A better soil shall give ye thanks.
Such a rural queen
p And so attend ye toward her glittering state. See note on “Il Penseroso.” v. 37. A "state" signified, not so much a throne or chair of state, as a canopy: thus Drayton, “Polyolb.” 8. xxvi. vol. iü. p. 1168, of a royal palace:
Who, led from room to room, amazed is to see
I Approach, and kiss her sacred vesture's hem.
Of branching elm star-proof. One of Peacham’s “Emblems” is the picture of a large and lofty grove, which defies the influence of the moon and stars appearing over it. This grove, in the verses affixed, is said to be “not pierceable to power of any starre.”—T. WARTON.
PRELIMINARY NOTE ON LYCIDAS.
MR. EDWARD KING.
This poem first appeared in a Cambridge collection of verses on the death of Mr. Edward King, fellow of Christ's College, printed at Cambridge in a thin quarto, 1638. It consists of three Greek, nineteen Latin, and thirteen English poems.
Edward King, the subject of this Monody, was the son of Sir John King, knight, secretary for Ireland, under queen Elizabeth, James I. and Charles I. He was sailing from Chester to Ireland, on a visit to his friends and relations in that country: these were, his brother, Sir Robert King, knight; and his sisters, Anne, wife of Sir George Caulfield Lord Clermont, and Margaret, above-mentioned, wife of Sir George Loder, chief Justice of Ireland ; Edward King, bishop of Elphin, by whom he was baptized ; and William Chappel, then dean of Cashel, and provost of Dublin College, who had been his tutor at Christ's College, Cambridge, and was afterwards bishop of Cork and Ross, and in this Pastoral is probably the same person that is styled “old Damcetas," v. 36, when, in calm weather, not far from the English coast, the ship, a very crazy vessel, “a fatal and perfidious bark," struck on a rock, and suddenly sunk to the bottom with all that were on board, not one escaping, August 10, 1637. King was now only twenty-five years old : he was perhaps a native of Ireland.
At Cambridge he was distinguished for his piety, and proficiency in polite literature: he has no inelegant copy of Latin iambics prefixed to a Latin comedy called “Senile Odium," acted at Queen's College, Cambridge, by the youth of that society, and written by P. Hausted, Cantab. 1633, 12mo. I will not say how far these performances justify Milton's panygeric on his friend's poetry, v. 9.
Who would not sing for Lycidas ? He knew
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme. This poem, as appears by the Trinity manuscript, was written in November, 1637, when Milton was not quite twenty-nine years old.-T. WARTON.
In the Latin poetical paraphrase of “ Lycidas” by William Hog, (the translator also of “Paradise Lost”) dated 1694, there is an English address to the reader; giving a brief account of the subject of the poem. It is there said, that “Some escaped in the boat; and great endeavours were used in that great consternation to get Mr. King into the boat, which did not prevail, so he and all with him were drowned, except those only that escaped in the boat." And yet, in the monumental inscription prefixed to the Collection of Verses on Mr. King's death, it is related “ Navi in scopulum allisa, et rimis ex ictu fatiscente, dum alii vectores vitæ mortalis frustra satagerent, immortalem anhelans, in genua provolutus oransque, una cum navigio ab aquis absorptus, animam Deo reddidit.”
Dr. Newton has observed that “Lycidas” is with great judgment made of the pastoral kind, as both Mr. King and Milton had been designed for holy orders and the pastoral care, which gives a peculiar propriety to several passages in it.— TODD.
Dr. Johnson's censure of the “Lycidas” is so extraordinary, and so tastelessly malignant, that it is impossible to pass it over without some discussion. Whatever principle of poetry we adopt, it is absolutely indefensible. We know that the critic had little feeling for the higher orders of poetry; but his captious objections to this composition could only proceed from blind prejudice and hatred. He had probably talked in this way from an early stage of his literary career, and was now ashamed to retract.
Whatever stern grandeur Milton's two epics and his drama, written in his latter days, exhibit; by whatever divine invention they are created; “Lycidas” and “ Čomus” have a fluency, a sweetness, a melody, a youthful freshness, a dewy brightness of description, which those gigantic poems have not. It is true that “Lycidas” has no deep grief; its clouds of sorrow are every where pierced by the golden rays of a splendid and joyous imagination : the ingredients are all poetical, even to single words; the epithets are all picturesque and fresh; and the whole are combined into a splendid tissue, as new in their position as they are radiant in their union. The unexpected transitions from one to the other at once surprise and delight: they are like the heavens of an autumnal evening, when they are lighted up by electric flames. The contrasts of sorrow, and hope, and glory, keep us in a state of mingled excitement to the end : the imagery never flags : though it blazes with the most beautiful forms of inanimate nature, and all sorts of pastoral pictures; yet the whole are by some spell or other made intellectual and spiritual : they do not play merely upon the mirror of the fancy.
When Johnson said that of this poem “the diction is harsh, the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing," where was his apprehension of beautiful language, and where his ear? Take any line as a specimen :
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
But, О the heavy change, now thou art gone,
Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.
Johnson says that the rhymes of “Lycidas” are ill-arranged, and too distant from each other: I know not that they are ever so; but if this is the case in one or two instances, they are in general most musically and happily placed.
The occasional allusions to the heathen mythology, by way of illustration or allegory, were never before prohibited or blamed by any critic; and are only censured here from a mere resolve to find fault.
The caviller contends that here is no grief, for grief does not deal in imagery or remote allusions; but, as Warton observes, if there is not deep grief, there is rich poetry. Milton's genius lay in strength and sublimity, not tenderness. This was one of a set of academical verses, written to glorify the deceased, and fix his memory upon the list of fame; and by what other possible means could Milton have effected it with equal success ?
In what way would the critic have expressed his sorrow? Johnson was no more remarkable for tenderness than Milton : his gravity was gloom, not tenderness. Milton saw in the death of the virtuous and accomplished an elevation to a higher and happier sphere of existence; Johnson beheld death with anxiety, doubt, and fear: Miston exulted; Johnson sighed, trembled, and was despondent: the thought paralysed Johnson; it cheered and irradiated Milton. Thus it supplied them with opposite figures and modes of expression. *
* Tickell's “Elegy on Addison” is probably the model which Johnson would have chosen. Tickell is solemn, and sometimes tender; but he has none of Milton's richness and illumination.
That prime charm of poetry, the rapidity and the novelty, yet the natural association of beautiful ideas, is pre-eminently exhibited in “ Lycidas,” where the sudden transitions to contrasted images and sentiments keep the mind in a state of delightful ferment;
And o'er the cheek of sorrow throw
A melancholy grace. It strikes me, that there is no poem of Milton, in which the pastoral and rural imagery is so breathing, so brilliant, and so new, as in this : the tone which has most similitude to it, is that of some descriptive passages of Shakspeare, whose simple brightness and modulation of words seem always to have dwelt on Milton's memory and ear.
But though strength was Milton's characteristic, there are many passages, many turns of thought and expression, in this poem, which are not wanting in tenderness, in pathetic recollections, and tearful sighs; in that sort of grief, which, let Johnson say what he will, belongs to true poetry : in grief neither factitious nor gloomy, but genuine, though hopeful, and mingled with rays of light, though melancholy.
Perhaps I should be inclined to say more on this exquisite and inimitable Elegy; but I must forbear, lest those remarks should run to an extent disproportioned to its length.
In this Monody the author bewails a learned friend, unfortunately drowned in
his passage from Chester on the Irish seas, 1637; and by occasion foretells
YEt once more, O ye laurels, and once more
• Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere. Newton has supposed, that Milton, while he mentions Apollo's laurel, to characterise King as a poet, adds the myrtle, the tree of Venus, to show that King was also of a proper age for love. We will allow that King, whatever hidden meaning the poet might have in enumerating the myrtle, was of a proper age for love, being now twenty-five years old: and the ivy our critic thinks to be expressive of King's learning, for which it was a reward. In the meantime, I would not exclude another probable implication; by plucking the berries and the leaves of laurel, myrtle, and ivy, he might intend to point out the pastoral or rural turn of this poem.-T. WARTON.
The opening of this poem always struck me as singularly beautiful. There is a sort of felicity in this combination of poetic words, which cannot be defined.
b I come to pluck your berries, &c. This beautiful allusion to the unripe age of his friend, in which death “shatter'd his leaves before the mellowing year,” is not antique, I think, but of those secret graces of Spenser. See “Shep. Cal.” Jan. ver. 37. The poet there says of himself, under the name of Colin Clout, “ All so my lustful leafe is drie and sere.”-RICHARDSON.
Milton had most probably in his mind a passage in Cicero “De Senectute,” where the death of young persons is compared to unripe fruit plucked with violence from the tree and that of old persons to fully ripe mellow fruit that falls naturally : “Et quasi poma ex arboribus, cruda si sint, vi avelluntur ; si matura et cocta, decidunt; sic vitam adolescentibus vis aufert, senibus maturitas.—DUNSTER.
c Mellowing year. Here is an inaccuracy of the poet : the “mellowing” year could not affect the leaves of the laurel, the myrtle, and the ivy; which last is characterised before as “never sere.”—T. WARTON.
Compels me to disturb your season due :
Begin then, Sisters of the sacred well,
For we were nursed upon the self-same hill ;
d And build the lofty rhyme. A beautiful Latinism. Hor. “Ep.” 1. iii. 24. "Seu condis amabile carmen.” And “De Arte. Poet.” v. 436. “Si carmina condes.”—Newton.
Todd here cites a passage from Spenser's “Ruines of Rome,” st. 25. I see little similitude.
• Melodious tear. For song, or plaintive elegiac strain, the cause of tears.—HURD.
Coy. The epithet “coy” is at present restrained to person : anciently it was more generally combined. Our author has the same use and sense of “coy" in the “Apology for Smectymnuus :"-"Thus lie at the mercy of a coy flurting style, to be girded with frumps and curtall gibes,” &c.-T. WARTON.
& My sable shroud. Mr. Dunster has little doubt that Milton here means the “dark grave; "shroud being the Miltonic word for recess, harbour, hiding-place; yet he has overlooked the passages in Sylvester, which occasioned, in my opinion, the introduction of “sable shroud” into Milton's Monody. And first, Sylvester, uses the precise expression, though with a different meaning, in his “Bethulian's Rescue,” lib. iv. p. 991, edit. 1621.
Still therefore, cover'd with a sable shroud,
Hath she kept home, as to all sorrow vow'd.
O happy pair ! upon your sable toomb
May mel and manna ever showering come. And what farther confirms me in the application of tomb or grave to Milton's text is a passage from a funeral Elegy of Sylvester, edit. supr. p. 1171.
From my sad cradle to my sable chest,
Poore pilgrim I did finde few months of rest.-TODD. I cannot think that applied to Lycidas, “shroud” means tomb, as Todd supposes, because Sylvester so used it, in reference to a different case.
Together toth, &c. From the regularity of his pursuits, the purity of his pleasures, his temperance, and general simplicity of life, Milton habitually became an early riser : hence he gained an acquaintance with the beauties of the morning, which he so frequently contemplated with delight, and has therefore so repeatedly described in all their various appearances : and